PAOLA — Two years ago, Julio “Kitson” Eugene and his fellow Haitians gathered around Julie Zoller during a soap-making demonstration in the poverty-stricken country of Haiti.
Julie, who owns Fire Lake Soapery in Paola, joined a number of other Miami County women on a mission trip to teach soap-making skills to the Haitians being helped by Respire Haiti, an organization founded by Megan Boudreaux.
Julie’s plan was to teach basic hygiene habits while also giving the Haitians the ability to create their own sustainable business.
Kitson was captivated by the process.
At one point, Julie’s husband, Bob, made a quip about himself cleaning the dishes at the Paola soap-making business.
“Someday I will be with you cleaning dishes there,” Kitson declared. “I have dreamed about that.”
After one failed attempt to acquire a travel visa, Kitson recently turned that dream into a reality. After flying into the United States, he went to stay with his cousin, who is married to an American and lives in Oklahoma City.
He knew, though, he had to visit Paola, so he planned out a week-long stay during the Miami County Fair. Kitson spent the past week living with the Zollers and experiencing all that Miami County and the surrounding region have to offer.
He splashed with his new Paola friends in Lake Miola, participated in the Rotary Fair Parade on Fire Lake Soapery’s float, swung a golf club for the first time at Topgolf in Overland Park and ate all kinds of American favorites from pizza to ice cream.
And although he loved all of the new experiences, his favorite place to be was mastering the art of soap-making inside Julie’s business on the west side of Paola’s Park Square.
There, throughout the week, Kitson helped make about 1,400 bars of specialty soap for different orders and honed the craft he hopes to turn into a business in his home country.
Before returning home, though, he plans to attend a two-month English school while staying with his family in Oklahoma City.
Julie said she’s excited to see what Kitson can do with his newfound talent, especially since there is very little soap in Haiti. Kitson said his ultimate plan is to also sell the soap in the United States and to missionaries visiting Haiti.
The Zollers are doing everything they can to help. They have already made multiple trips to Haiti, and Julie said they’d like to go back once the travel advisory severity drops.
“It’s very dangerous there right now,” she said.
Still, Julie knows she can help in other ways. When they heard a bus was being taken by boat to Haiti, the Zollers packed up boxes of soap-making supplies and helped fill the bus. They are also collecting monetary donations to help get the Haitian soap-making effort off the ground.
Julie said she had to tweak the soap recipe she gave Kitson and his fellow Haitians to make it easier for them to utilize ingredients more readily available to them. For instance, castor oil was added because of its abundance in Haiti.
Kitson said he appreciates all the help, and he is grateful for the hospitality he received in Miami County. The first thing he noticed when he arrived is how clean everything is.
“Everything is in order,” Kitson said. “Nice and clean.”
Julie said when they visited Haiti, there were piles of trash everywhere.
Kitson also couldn’t believe how bright it is in America, even at night.
“There’s light everywhere,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
Although Kitson has now moved on to Oklahoma City, he said he’d like to return to Paola sometime, especially since he’s never seen snow.
Julie said he would be welcome anytime, and she believes he made just as much of a positive impact on her and her family and friends they made on him.
“He has blessed us,” Julie said.